Away woes hampering Millers' survival bid - Interview
Wednesday, 13th Mar 2019 09:51 by Clive Whittingham
Without an away win all season, without an away win at this level in 43 attempts, Rotherham have slipped into the bottom three for the first time this season recently and face a fight for survival according to Millers' regular Ross Middleton.
How would you assess Rotherham’s first season back in the Championship?
It’s been a “what could’ve been” season for me. We’ve drawn 15 games so far and probably should have gained another 10/15 points in games we’ve lost also, but I suppose other teams could say that and at the end of the day we are where we are. We’ve sorely missed a striker to take the burden away from our main forward Michael Smith, who has just five goals but works so hard for the team. It would have been nice for another couple of options to help but I have to say that we are massively exceeding expectations considering the size of our squad and outlay - £150,000 up to press this season in January. So to be in with a fighting chance at this stage of the season is a miracle really and far surpasses two years ago.
Clearly the main problem is the away form, no wins at all so far, why do you struggle on the road?
It’s got to be a mental problem hasn’t it? Although we managed to pick up a load of wins last season on our way to promotion, there is this hoodoo that we need to shake off in the Championship (43 games and counting without a victory). I’ve also been a tad critical of our approach in certain games where we’ve clearly gone to stifle and then not reacted upon the realisation that some teams in this division aren’t actually as good as we build them up to be.
Any grumbles/criticism of a popular but inexperienced manager given your struggles?
See above regarding some tactical issues I may have had in certain games (and some teams at home that were there for the taking) but no, I can’t be critical of a man who has taken this team to his heart and got them playing the club and the fans this season, something which was sadly lacking two years ago. He’s still learning on the job but has surrounded himself with staff that have the club at heart and he’s driving everyone on. When you look at the fact we’ve spent £150,000 this season (on one player) so to have been outside the bottom three for so long (we dropped in two weeks ago) and still be fighting now speaks volumes for the job Paul Warne has done.
What was your overall opinion of Ryan Manning in the end? Seemed to start well and fall away, which is what he’s done for us.
Spot on. Very good technically and loved a tackle. Stuck a good penalty away too. But for me gave the ball away too much and became a victim of a good run we had when he was out of the side for one game so found it hard to get back in. To be fair if he hadn’t been recalled in January then he probably would have found his way back into the team, although that would have held back on our own, Ben Wiles, further who has broken into the team since the turn of the year and who looks a player, even at 19 years old.
Who are your player of the season candidates?
Will Vaulks will pick up all the plaudits for his all-action displays in midfield, and rightly so, his performances have been inspirational considering he looked out of his depth two years ago. But him and a few others (Joe Mattock, Semi Ajayi) have come back better for the experience and grown into established Championship performers. I don’t expect Semi or Vaulks to be with us next season, whichever division we’re in. Michael Smith has been another good performer; I didn’t think he’d make the step up and to look at his goals record it would seem he hasn’t, but his all-round play has been excellent up top on his own all season and bringing others into play while the shirt has been ripped off his back on every occasion.
Who are the weak links in the side?
To be honest I think we’ve eradicated the wink leaks in our side, a lack of assistance for our striker would be seen as our collective weak link. We had a problem at right back when Zak Vyner (our loanee from Bristol City) was in the team but to be fair he didn’t get much help from the wingers in front of him. I think Warne realised we needed some experience there, which is why he brought Billy Jones back into the team. When you look at some of the goals we’ve conceded you could say the defence has been a problem but the way we play invites teams onto us and we’ve just got to hope we keep them out.
Do you think you’ll survive? What are the consequences for the club, financially or otherwise, if you don’t? What needs to happen next season to avoid another struggle if you do?
To be honest I’m not sure if we’ll stay up. We’ve a pig of a run in from April onwards, although we have been playing well against better opposition, but we could do with that elusive first away win coming soon! My heart obviously says we’ll stay up but my head’s telling me our numerous draws and failure to win on the road might be our downfall unfortunately. Consequentially, having kept the squad size and wages to a minimum as well as only spending that tiny bit of money we should be in good shape financially to attempt to get back up. We will obviously lose players and a number are out of contract and waiting to see if we will stay up before committing, so we’ve got a big summer coming up.
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